The Nativity: A Critical Examination

By Jonathan MS Pearce

The nativity of Jesus is an event that carries much cultural recognition. However, is it a narrative which commands much support in the academic world? Is it a story which holds much historical truth? Or were the two biblical accounts of the birth of Jesus an opportunity for the authors to impart a theological truth or otherwise?

These are the sort of questions that are often asked of the nativity accounts and questions which are answered in this concise and yet well-researched and informative book. Some twenty arguments are looked at and presented in a clear and detailed manner, building a cumulative case for the objection to the historical nature of the Gospel accounts. The author also questions what purpose these stories do serve if indeed they do carry little or no historical truth.

With reference to a wide array of contemporary and iconic works on the subject, Pearce has created a compendium of critical arguments against the historicity of a story which still remains a vital piece of our collective cultural and religious tapestry.

“For anyone beginning to doubt the reliability of the gospels as eyewitness accounts, Pearce’s “The Nativity” will teach you everything you need to know to move past the limitations of biblical infallibility and explore the complicated process that went into the gospel narratives of Jesus Christ.” – Derek Murphy, author of Jesus Potter Harry Christ

“excellent” – David Fitzgerald, author of Nailed

Here are some Amazon reviews for the book:

A very accessible introductory look at the evidence or lack thereof for the nativity accounts.

Jonathan documents what notable scholars have written to show the disparity and contradictions that are extant with regard to these legendary tales about Jesus. As we look at the “evidence” one thing is painfully salient to any objective and honest reader. These stories are pure fiction, embellished later probably to make the prophecies “fit” as it were, even know some of the prophecies they tried to make fit were not exactly understood, such as the virgin birth. The Hebrew word almah simply means young woman and is mistranslated because Christians claim that the birth of Jesus was predicted long before the event, even know the verse is not about any virgin birth at all.

Of course in addition to the evidence that Jonathan lists, it is well know that Jewish scholars reject the idea of the Virgin Birth because as Alfred Kolatch points out, “in Isaiah 7:14 the word Alma is part of the Hebrew phrase ha-alma hara, meaning “the alma is pregnant.” Since the present tense is used, it is clear that the young woman was already pregnant and hence not a virgin. This being the case, the verse cannot be cited as a prediction of the future. ”

This and all the other accounts in the nativity are considered, for example, the consensus (the nail is in the coffin on this), star of Bethlehem, genealogies, Magi’s visit and the flight to Egypt, etc..One thing because crystal clear as the you read what these scholars have noted. These stories are all mythical and were probably reversed engineered in an attempt to make them fit. The gospels do not agree with each other at all, and some stories seem to clearly contradict each other. How do we account of this? Well, read this book and make up your own mind. The verdict seems to be in, and where this book is critical is simply devastating to the Christian position that these stories have any legitimacy whatsoever. And for that matter neither does Biblical inerrancy

I’ve never written a book review before. Occasionally I’ve considered reviewing books and essays I found to be not only interesting, but enjoyable and enlightening.

So I’ve decided that once in a while, when I’ve read something I consider really well done, I would write about it here that I might convince a few of you to spend your money and time trusting that you would have a similar experience as I have.
I believe that Jonathan M.S. Pearce’s work, THE NATIVITY: A Critical Examination is one of those books you’ll find as I described above: both enjoyable and enlightening.
I don’t know much about Mr. Pearce other than from his blog and I didn’t just stumble on this work accidentally, but it was recommended to me by a friend. What I discovered in the opening pages was someone that was performing some serious scholarly work, but not in a pedantic fashion. Honestly, I found the book hard to put down, but on the other hand, I also didn’t want to complete the book too quickly.
What first comes to mind for me about this book is that it made me think. Most of us are aware of the story of the Nativity as described in the New Testament books of Matthew and Luke, and the inconsistencies between the two accounts. How many of us have taken the time to look at each account together, verse by verse, and deconstruct those stories? This is what Mr. Pearce does very well in this book. This is a scholarly work as I mentioned earlier but is written for the layman. He consistently quotes scholars in ancient history and biblical studies – on both sides mind you – to present what I consider a fair rendering of these two accounts of the birth of Jesus.
Without giving too much away, (because I would like you to read and judge for yourself) consider just these few areas that are discussed and analyzed:
Why it is that Christians will believe in the virgin birth of their god, and yet dismiss as mythology other virgin births in more ancient religions?
The genealogy of Jesus; why there are two different genealogies and what is each author trying to portray to the readers of Matthew and Luke.
What I refer to as the conundrum of the “census” that causes Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem.
How the authors used Old Testament “prophecy” to justify the eminence of Jesus over all other gods.
These are just a few of the areas covered and what I found really enjoyable is how Mr. Pearce, throughout the book, weaves these stories to show the reader the incredulity of the entire event.
I truly believe that like me, you’ll have a better understanding of what has been heralded by Christianity for 2000 years as a “miraculous” event, as nothing more than two writers, trying to justify the supremacy of their god for their own readership. I actually came away from this book actually wondering why anyone, anyone, even 2000 years ago, could have taken either story as being a true account. It also left me with a larger question as well: How is it possible that early church fathers selected these works, having to know that there were significant differences in the accounts, as part of the Christian canon?
I highly recommend this book. You can buy it in paper or Kindle format here.

When was Jesus born? What was his birth date? Where was he born and why was he born there? Who knew of his birth? How is Jesus related to biblical characters past? Who thought that baby Jesus was the messiah and why? What important historical events do you expect we should have records of if the bible accounts were accurate?

If you think you know the answers to these questions, think again.

Jonathan Pearce points out how, despite the heartwarming Christmas pageants we are all familiar with, there is no real cohesive narrative regarding the birth of Jesus. It appears that when they originally calculated the year of the nativity in the 6th century, they were averaging two different years as estimated by the two very different accounts of Jesus’ birth given in the bible– both of which seem purposefully manufactured to make Jesus’ birth match the description of the messiah foretold in Jewish prophesy.

Step by step, Pearce shows us how it is impossible for both biblical accounts (Luke and Matthew) to be true, and, as we delve into the finer details of each account, it become increasingly obvious that neither account comports with historical facts.(How can a star guide the “three wise men” towards the birth site when a star would move across the sky as the earth rotates and disappears during the day? Why do people think there were “three” wise men anyway when that is not mentioned in the bible?)

If the Christian would not accept specious reasoning to suffice as an explanation for another religion’s miraculous claims, this book should give a clear understanding as to why an outsider rejects the bible’s miraculous claims. The Jesus story doesn’t make sense from the get go.

This little book is a must-read for Christians brave enough to consider whether their beliefs could be as mythological as conflicting faiths. It’s also a gem for those outside the Christian faith who want to know whether Christianity is built upon a coherent narrative. This, however, is most definitely is not a book for those afraid that their god will damn them to hell unless they believe in the inerrancy of the bible. Before you read this book, ask yourself, “If the nativity story is a myth, would I want to know?”